When the term sisterhood was still used only to describe women in nunneries, women were taking care of each other in all aspects of life, including inventing things that would make their lives easier and more productive. Granted, women have also invented thousands of processes and equipment that have bettered the world as a whole but the innovations they came up with that most benefited females including many creations men would have most likely never conceived. Here is a list of 10 items women created to help better their quality of daily life tremendously.
Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacob) – Bra
Women often complain about the uncomfortable aspects of bras but most still wear them to keep breasts in place. Bras are also word for health and comfort as well as to help define the body shape to make clothing look its best. Caresse Crosby was the visionary who received the first US brassiere patent in 1914, although the concept of breast supporting undergarments originated in France about a decade earlier. Crosby was a true Renaissance woman, as she also opened Black Sun Press with her second husband that first published such famous writers as Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry Miller.
Elizabeth Hawk – Stove
For centuries, women slaved over hot fires outside and inside cooking for their families day in and day out. It was a grueling chore that required wood chopping and heavy lifting and after all that, they still had a cauldron or pot belly stove with no heat control. Elizabeth Hawk solved that problem in 1867 when she invented a stove that distributed heat evenly, a boon for bread making. Her cast iron stove had 4 burners and an oven, all separately controlled, and she sold over 2000 units in 2 months.
Ann Moore – Child Carrier
If you’ve ever tried to carry an infant or toddler, you understand the challenge; if they’re asleep, the task doubles in difficulty. It’s comparable to transporting 5 bags of flour in cloth sacks, all different sizes and sewn together. When Ann Moore, a pediatric nurse, was traipsing through Togo in West Africa as one of the earliest Peace Corps volunteers, she observed women carrying children in slings made of shawls. When she returned to the US and had a child, Moore and her mother developed a backpack harness for carrying children that was the forerunner to the popular Snugli, patented in 1969.
Lyda Newman – Better Hairbrush
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African-American women were key in the creation of innovative hair care products. While Lyda Newman did not invent the hairbrush, her enhancements to the styling tool were tremendously important. She introduced the first synthetic bristle brush in 1898, replacing the animal hair brushes. Her design also had aeration openings for easier cleaning. Her hairbrush was also devised to extract impurities from the scalp and hair (remember, this was long before the daily shower routine was conceived or possible) and push them into a compartment on the base of the brush, leaving the bristles clean.
Marjorie Stewart Joyner – Hair Styling Rods
The daughter of a slave owner and a slave, Joyner teamed up in 1920 with Madam C. J. Walker, an African American beauty entrepreneur who owned a cosmetics empire. She was the national advisor for 200 of Walker’s beauty schools and witnessed the difficulty black women had in trying to straighten their hair. In 1926 she started experimenting with paper rods that hair was wrapped around to curl or straighten it and then heated, which made the set last several days. Joyner was the first African American woman to receive a patent when she was granted one for the rods in 1928.
Helen Augusta Blanchard – Zigzag Stitch
Some inventors are best at improving upon existing technology. Blanchard received 28 patents in her life between 1873 and 1915 and many of them enhanced sewing technology and machines. Credit her with the invention of the zigzag stitch and overstitching, both of which significantly increased the durability of clothing and household goods. Blanchard went on to found a hosiery machine company and invent a sewing machine specially designed to make nothing but hats.
Florence Parpart – Modern Refrigerator
Parpart received a patent in 1914 for the modern electric powered refrigerator. Before then, the old fashioned ice box was the only alternative, which required keeping it stocked with blocks of ice to operate. Her husband assisted with the prototype design but Parpart successfully marketed and sold the appliances at trade shows throughout the country. Prior to the refrigerator patent, Parpart received her first patent for an improved street cleaning machine in 1900, a design that was embraced by major cities from coast to coast.
Marion Donovan – Disposable Diapers
If you’re under 40 years old, you probably don’t remember life before disposable diapers. Donovan was a mother of two right after World War II and was aggravated by the never-ending chore of washing cloth diapers and all the related soiled linens. She devised a diaper with a cloth interior covered by a piece of shower curtain that protected against soils but didn’t cause diaper rash. She received a patent for it in 1951 and then developed a fully disposable diaper. After years of being shunned by manufacturers, Victor Mills developed Pampers based on Donovan’s vision.
Bette Nesmith Graham – Liquid Paper
As with disposable diapers, many people under 40 have never seen or used a typewriter, so understanding the importance of Liquid Paper is a stretch. Carbon-film ribbons in early typewriters created type that could not be erased with a pencil eraser, which meant important documents had to be completely retyped if an error was made. Inspired by window painters of holiday decorations who simply corrected errors with another layer of paint, Graham, a secretary, invented a white liquid that covered errors and could be typed on when dry. She invented “Mistake Out” in 1956 and received her patent in 1958 after renaming her product “Liquid Paper.”
Margaret Knight – Stand-Up Paper Bag
Before Knight’s invention, paper bags were fairly useless as they were flat, like oversized envelopes. Knight envisioned a bag with a square bottom that could hold more grocery items and be stronger. In 1870, she built a wooden machine to attach the bottoms to the sides of bags. When she was developing an iron prototype for patenting, she discovered a man had stolen her machine design and applied for a patent. He claimed a woman couldn’t have possibly invented such a device but Knight sued him for patent interference and won, getting her patent in 1871.
Josephine Cochrane – Dishwasher
Although you would assume the inventor of the automatic dishwasher was a housewife, sick and tired of washing dishes, that’s not how it happened. Cochrane was actually an affluent socialite who was aggravated by her servants breaking her fine china during hand washing the dishes. When her husband died in 1883 leaving her in deep debt, Cochrane decided to get back on her feet by inventing a machine that would wash many dishes at once using water pressure aimed at wire racks. After receiving her patent in 1883, she marketed the dishwashers to restaurants and hotels and as time passed, the demand for household dishwashers grew.